Tolkien uses “merry” in its present uses – amusing; jolly – and in a number of its obsolete ones, as musically pleasing, or enjoyable, or boisterous.  I imagine that drawing the line between shades of meaning for the OED must be a complex and very artistic profession.  “Merry” does not appear in Chapters 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16.  It’s distributed evenly on both sides of Chapter 10.  I notice that most of the second half “merries” begin here:

[18.019] ‘There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure.  If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!’

I think this is what Richard Blackwelder meant by passages “of great beauty”.  I regard “merry” as a healing word: it’s used by Thorin to heal the rift between himself and Bilbo; it fills the farewells as Bilbo leaves behind his war experience; elves welcome him back to the west with “Merry.”

  • 01.051 Quite a merry gathering!
  • 01.122 They built the merry town of Dale there
  • 02.027 So after that the party went along very merrily,
  • 02.028 in merry tales,
  • 03.023 talking merrily with them.
  • 03.026 and they sang a merry song as the party went across.
  • 03.029 and some elves have over merry tongues.
  • 03.040 and its merry bells,
  • 07.070 in my merry men,
  • 08.048 and there was a merry singing,
  • 08.058 and laughing merrily.
  • 09.025 and laugh merrily.
  • 09.039 They had left a merry feast
  • 09.044 and make merry
  • 09.046 and became mighty merry all of a sudden.
  • 09.052 the elves being very merry
  • 09.064 and there was a merry racket down by the river.
  • 13.034 in merry mood,
  • 15.043 and grew merry;
  • 17.059 that should have lived yet long ages merrily
  • 17.061 and the merry elves.
  • 18.019 it would be a merrier world.
  • 18.019 But sad or merry,
  • 18.042 for now the northern world would be merrier
  • 18.044 Merry be the greenwood,
  • 18.044 and merry be all your folk!’
  • 18.051 and merry there;
  • 19.012 Merry is May-time, and merry our meeting.
  • 19.012 Merry is May-time, and merry our meeting.
  • 19.015 Well, Merry People!’
  • 19.018 and he had many a merry jest
  • 19.020 Merry is May-time!’
  • 19.030 And through the merry flowers of June,

Update 2015.07.09: we discovered further on that “merry” may very well be a not-quite-perfect elf-detector.

Blackwelder, Richard E. Tolkien Phraseology: A Companion to A Tolkien Thesaurus Tolkien Archives Fund, Marquette University, 1990. Print.

“merry, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 11 May 2015.


Our current use of the word is for our near relations, not for the sense of ancestral stock as it is generally used in The Hobbit.  “Kin” comes up more in the book as we get closer to the war for gold, to reasons to divide into “us” and “them”.

  • 03.035 my kin.
  • 09.018 from their kinsfolk
  • 12.072 and where are his kin that dare seek revenge?
  • 15.021 that you would send messengers to our kin
  • 15.040 The king of friend and kin has need.
  • 15.051 you would have paid to our kindred,
  • 17.033 We are hastening to our kinsmen
  • 17.057 O my kinsfolk!’

“kin, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 11 May 2015.


This beautiful word is a Tolkien back-formation from a rare spelling of the obsolete verb “whither”: to make a blustering sound or rage about in the manner of the wind.  “Be-whither” – surround with confusing sounds and rush of energy – becomes “bewuthered”.  Magnificent!  Thanks to Alert Reader Grace who pointed out “Wuthering Heights” to the good of this entry!

“Bewuther” comes just as Gandalf raps on Bilbo’s door in Chapter 1 to introduce the last dwarves and incidentally obscure the mark he had made previously on that door.

[01.048] Bilbo rushed along the passage, very angry, and altogether bewildered and bewuthered – this was the most awkward Wednesday he ever remembered.

Not only are we just getting to know our prosaic little protagonist, but he’s having an awkward Wednesday.  We’re thoroughly in the Children’s Story mode where things are more funny than scary.  Tolkien plays with the sounds of the words because he’s telling the story out loud.  He has invented a word which we absolutely understand as much because of its form as its context.  “Be-” suggests that the feeling of bewutherment is an intense one.  The W sound alliterates with “bewildered”, allowing us to assume that “wuthering” has as much to do with being lost as “wildering”.

  • 01.048 and bewuthered –

“ˈwhither, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 9 May 2015.


“Benight” uses be- in its capacity as a Maker of Verbs with the sense of surround.

  • 06.026 so that they often caught people benighted near their gates.

The derivative adjective “benighted”carries the metaphorical connotation of having been morally corrupted.  Tolkien uses it here, however, in its old meaning.  Goblins caught travellers who had become surrounded by night.  The OED tells us that this meaning is obsolete, although we find it perfectly understandable.

“benighted, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 7 May 2015.


I thought I had made a grievous error.  In scanning through the Os to find words to eliminate, I found “orcs” but not “orc”.  Baffled that “orc” would be in The Ten Thousand, I checked that list and found “force” and “divorce” but not “orc” by itself.  Frantic that I had mistaken “force” for “orc” at some point and eliminated them all, I raced to my backup copies of words and found the same thing.  The text confirms.  “Orcs” is used twice in the entire text and “orc” none at all, except in the compound word “Orcrist”.  The monsters in the mountains of this work are “goblins”.

Orcs (the word is as far as I am concerned actually derived from Old English orc ‘demon’, but only because of its phonetic suitability) are nowhere clearly stated to be of any particular origin. But since they are servants of the Dark Power, and later of Sauron, neither of whom could, or would, produce living things, they must be ‘corruptions’. They are not based on direct experience of mine; but owe, I suppose, a good deal to the goblin tradition (goblin is used as a translation in The Hobbit, where orc only occurs once, I think), especially as it appears in George MacDonald, except for the soft feet which I never believed in. The name has the form orch (pl. yrch) in Sindarin and uruk in the Black Speech.

The OED says that “orc” is more likely derived from ogre and cites a phrase in Beowulf –  “elves and orcs”.  OED credits Tolkien with reviving an obsolete word.  Because of Tolkien, the word is neither obsolete nor archaic.  Since he revived it, however, I am giving this word those tags.

05.133 the orcs of the mountains
07.151 and orcs of the worst description.

“orc, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 9 May 2015.

Tolkien, J.R.R. (2014-02-21). The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Kindle Locations 3759-3765). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.